Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis took exception to the Commission’s desire to trim the county travel budget, suggesting the real travel fat could be found within the budget of the Bradley County Schools.
His comments came at the end of a 16-minute discussion about the issue during Monday’s Commission meeting.
The subject had originally been broached by 4th District Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones when she had referred to the multiple employees from the election commission going to “required meetings.”
There are in fact meetings the state requires certain officials to attend, but Peak-Jones’ argument is there is only one actually required to fulfill the obligation.
“It looks like I’m picking on [the election commission], but I’m using them as an example, because we called them in here to talk about their travel expenses during the budget hearings,” she said.
She said just because it hasn’t increased year after year, the travel expense budget should continue to be approved, “if we’re looking at things that shouldn’t be done.”
“As a taxpayer, I don’t think that any nonrequired personnel should go on trips on the taxpayer’s dime,” Peak-Jones said. “I don’t want to pay for a department to be sending three people, when [just] one is required.”
She noted Whirlpool sends one employee to classes who then returns to the plant and teaches others what they have learned at away meetings.
“I don’t see the benefits of sending three on a trip when one is required,” she said.
Answering a question from 2nd District Commissioner Connie Wilson, Davis described the current county travel policy as “very general.”
“The only way you’re going to do these limitations you’re referring to is by cutting the budget,” Davis said.
He noted every department has different forms of travel needs.
“The sheriff’s travel may be to haul prisoners across the state. They may send two and we say they can only send one,” Davis said.
He said if the Commission sees a department is sending people they should not send, “then cut that department’s budget.”
First District Commissioner Ed Elkins said he agreed “just because you have it in the budget doesn’t mean you have to spend it.”
“Without there being some kind of committee that reviews each department’s travel, it’s going to be kind of hard to decide whether they need to do it or not do it,” Elkins said. “But, it does need to be looked at.”
Seventh District Commissioner Bill Winters said he had some problems with restraining the number of individuals who might attend travel-required meetings.
“As a principal, it may be important for me to take a nonrequired person to listen to what’s being presented, and they are able to give another perspective,” Winters said. “If they abuse it, we have a place to deal with that.”
Third District Commissioner Jeff Morelock and Vice Chairman J. Adam Lowe brought up the subject of imposing zero-based budgeting.
That type of budgeting does not start with what was actually spent during the last fiscal year.
Instead, each request has to be re-evaluated and previous funding levels would have no bearing on the next fiscal year’s final numbers.
Peak-Jones said she was not saying there were any departments “abusing” their travel budgets.
“We should just be more diligent with it,” she said. “Everybody is wanting Lake Forest school built. I already said this won’t build Lake Forest school, but it would save taxpayers.”
That is when Davis made his comments concerning where he thought travel funds are being used to excess.
“You mentioned Lake Forest,” Davis said. “Has anyone totaled up the travel budget in the school budget? Take the school budget and total up the travel, and put that toward Lake Forest, not these hundreds of dollars you keep talking about in [the county budget]. Look at the school budget’s travel [sum]. It’ll amaze you.”